Mayapple is a common spring perennial wildflower that makes its biggest impression with its leaves, which resemble umbrellas arising from a single stalk. It often grows in colonies.
On mayapples, only a single flower develops, and only on plants having 2 leaves. The flower arises from the axil of the 2 leaf stems; it is white, with 6–9 waxy, spreading petals and a green, clublike pistil; flowers can be 3 inches across. A rare pink-flowering form exists. Blooms March–May.
The leaves are large, to 1 foot wide, with many deep notches to near the middle of the leaf, the segments with coarse teeth, arising from a smooth stem to 1½ feet tall.
The fruit is a “may apple,” egg-shaped, to 2 inches long, pale green to yellow, botanically a berry. Plants with only 1 leaf will not flower or fruit; only plants with 2 or 3 leaves form flowers and fruits.
Height: 1 to 1½ feet.
Habitat and Conservation
Occurs in moist or dry, open woods, ledges of bluffs, sometimes persisting in fields and pastures or on roadsides adjacent to woods. Often found growing in small colonies.
Native Missouri wildflower.
The leaves, stems, and roots are poisonous but have medicinal use, with one derivative used as a treatment for cancer.
The fully ripe fruits are edible with a pleasant taste and can be eaten raw or made into beverages, jellies, and preserves. Mayapple fruits were an important food for Native Americans.
Handling rootstocks can cause dermatitis in some people.
Mayapple flowers are pollinated by bumblebees and other bees with long tongues. Only a few species of insects feed on the leaves, and virtually no mammals eat the plant due to its bitterness and toxicity.
Opossums, raccoons, squirrels, box turtles, and other fruit-loving animals may eat the ripe fruits, and they no doubt disperse the seeds to new locations in their excrement.
Some of the closest relatives of mayapple growing in Missouri are shrubs, including the introduced Japanese barberry (an ornamental that escapes cultivation) and two native barberries that are rarely encountered. Another Missouri member of the barberry family, blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), is a perennial herb with blue, berrylike fruits scattered nearly statewide. None of these are likely to be confused with mayapple. Details of flower and fruit anatomy reflect plant genetic relationships better than leaves and stems.
The only other species in genus Podophyllum occurs in east Asia.
Mayapple leaves often show yellow or orange spots from mayapple rust (Allodus podophylli), a fungal disease. Although it can disfigure the leaves, it normally causes little harm to the mayapple plants, which are its only host.